WHEN the brilliant electrician, Nikola Tesla, was informed by a newspaper reporter some weeks ago that William Marconi had received strong wireless signals seeming to come from beyond the earth, something like corroboration resulted. Nikola Tesla, as he is quoted in the New York Evening Post, remembered that years ago he recorded extra-planetary signals in his laboratory at Colorado Springs. These extra-planetary signals were barely perceptible at the time, but their measured regularity was such that they could not, in Tesla's opinion, have been accidental static disturbances. They possessed order. Mr. Tesla admits that he could not say with certainty that they came from Mars, altho, as quoted in the New York newspaper, this remains his belief. In our solar system, he adds, Venus, the earth and Mars represent respectively youth, full growth and old age.
"Venus, with its mountains rising dozens of miles into the atmosphere, is probably as yet unfitted for such existence as ours, but Mars must have passed through all terrestrial states and conditions.
"Civilized existence rests of the development of the mechanical arts. The force of gravity on Mars being only two-fifths of that on the earth, all mechanical problems must be much easier of solution. The planet being much smaller, the contact between individuals and the mutual exchange of ideas must have been much quicker. There are many other reasons why intellectual life on that planet should have been phenomenal in its evolutions."
Tesla is certain that the signals he transmitted in reply to those he detected years ago must have produced disturbances on the planet Mars. Whether there were instruments there to receive them or intelligence to recognise them as interplanetary messages is another question. He thinks the first step in communication with another planet must be made through the science of mathematics, as suggested by Marconi. Tesla feels that it will be difficult, however, to advance far by means of cosmic Esperanto because conversation cannot be carried on with figures. It is not likely that anywhere in the universe there be "knowledge without form." In mental or in physical vision is comprized the foundation of all knowledge. Now, pictures been transmitted by telegraph. Why not by wireless?
"Granted always that on some of the neighboring planets there exist intelligent being, as far advanced in civilization as we, or farther advanced, who understand wireless telegraphy, we should be able to flash pictures — say of the human face — by wireless, and receive in return pictures by wireless. When that step is taken the whole riddle of interplanetary communication is solved.
"Now, a speculation of this sort will always seem foolish, visionary, and idle unless we start from the premise that other planets of the universe are inhabited by life-form just as intelligent as the human beings of this world. I assume that such is the case. In fact, it is a mathematical certainty. It is ridiculous to think that life has not developed on the innumerable planets surrounding us."
In view of the fact that Mars is but thirty-five million miles from the earth when the two planets come closest together, Tesla says it would take a radio impulse less than five minutes to flash between the pair. The minimum disturbance between the planets was arrived at in 1909. "We shall again be within a hailing distance of 35,000,000 miles from Mars in 1924." It should be noted that Tesla does not accept many of the assumptions upon which physicists base some current theories affecting the subject of wireless communication. He had recently set forth anew in The Electrical Experimenter his reasons for denying not only the axial rotation of the moon — "a phenomenon deceptive alike to the eye and mind and devoid of physical meaning" — but the Hertzian wave-hypothesis as usually expounded. Hence some at least of the arguments by means of which his theory of communication with other planets is attacked carry no weight with him. Tesla asks us to imagine the earth to be a bag of rubber, filled with water, a small quantity of which is periodically forced in and out of the same by means of a reciprocating pump:
"If the strokes of the latter are effected in intervals of more than one hour and forty-eight minutes, sufficient for the transmission of the impulse through the whole mass, the entire bag will expand and contract and corresponding movements will be imparted to pressure gauges or movable pistons with the same intensity, irrespective of distance. By working the pump faster, shorter waves will be produced which, on reaching the opposite end of the bag, may be reflected and give rise to stationary nodes and loops, but in any case, the fluid being incompressible, its inclosure perfectly elastic, and the frequency of oscillations not very high, the energy will be economically transmitted and very little power consumed so long as no work is done in the receivers. This is a crude but correct representation of my wireless system, in which, however, I resort to various refinements. Thus, for instance, the pump is made part of a resonant system of great inertia, enormously magnifying the force of the impressed impulses. The receiving devices are similarly conditions and in this manner the amount of energy collected in them vastly increased.
"The Hertz wave system is in many respects the very opposite of this. To explain it by analogy, the piston of the pump is assumed to vibrate to and fro at a terrific rate and the orifice through which the fluid passes in and out of the cylinder is reduced to a small hole. There is scarcely any movement of the fluid and almost the whole work performed results in the production of radiant heat, of which an infinitesimal part is recovered in a remote locality. However incredible, it is true that the minds of some of the ablest experts have been, and still are, obsessed by this monstrous idea."
Originally published in "Current Opinion" (March 1919). Browse HathiTrust.org for complete, public-domain issues of Current Opinion and a variety of early 20th century publications.
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